'Caching' is becoming a buzzword among business owners who are looking at the alternatives that technology can offer to allow them to operate more efficiently and effectively.
The communications network infrastructure underpins all business. As the business expands and adds more applications, sites, users and security measure, network traffic increases and presents a significant challenge for all their IT departments.
Most organisations do the usual thing and add capacity, but it has come to a point that they realise that continually throwing on extra bandwidth to solve a business performance problem is an expensive option, and rarely guarantees a smooth flow of application transactions.
Statistics reveal that currently, Malaysian Internet service providers (ISPs) have collectively spent about RM60 million (US$19.67 million) in just international bandwidth cost for the whole year of 2012. And this can be reduced by up to 50 percent, if caching is fully adopted.
Caching technology is probably the most important component of any content delivery network (CDN). In brief, caching refers to the process by which a copy of content is stored in a location close to the user, usually for a defined period.
This process ensures that requests for that content can be serviced locally, which helps to cut costs and save time. By reducing the amount of traffic flowing through the network,
caching may help firms avoid the expense of upgrading wide area network (WAN) bandwidth.
The Caching Case for ISPs and Content Providers
ISPs in Malaysia are seeing bigger demands for faster connectivity, driven by the market's increasingly ferocious appetite for more real-time news and updates, online gaming and retail applications, and streaming videos - from both fixed and mobile customer end-points. This is a great opportunity for ISPs to monetise on these demands since they also face significant technical and economic challenges due to more and more subscribers doing video and media data streaming.
ISPs are experiencing significant profit cuts as they struggle to maintain the quality of new media consumption by the ever demanding and discerning consumer market.
Today, every second of delay affects the quality of ISP service and with the current surge of Internet traffic, ISPs look to caching as a simple yet and strategic technology in their business.
Reactive & Proactive Types
A lot of the information sent around corporate networks is repeated, and the infrastructure has to become intelligent enough to manage this cleverly.
Proactive Caching: An increasingly popular alternative is to use proactive caching to reduce peak time traffic and anticipate user demand. Caching works by collating the number of content downloads - could be a media file, YouTube video, torrents, movies and etc., from the Internet. Once the number of downloads reach a number of hits that indicates its popularity, a copy of the download data items are captured and stored at data centres' facilities.
So for future requests for the same content, the ISP can deliver very efficient service so that the end-users can experience even faster and smoother streaming.
Caching also provides an alternative for Web broadcasts with streamed video, and for distance learning. The content can be sent to a local cache and accessed from there.
Reactive Caching: The first copy of any content is usually downloaded following a request from a user, while subsequent requests can be met from the cached copy. That first request will typically be made during peak hours, when network loading is already high. This type of system is called reactive caching, where content is pulled into the cache in response to requests from users.
Web content and streamed media are not the only traffic on company networks. Organisations with multiple offices may also want to give staff access to training materials, standard literature, and databases for management reporting, and the latest software patches. These too can be copied to local file storage in each office. The good thing about a cache is it checks to see if the content is current.
To Cache or Not?
However, before committing to store all their information at a data centre, companies should take a long hard look at their networks to find out how their bandwidth is being used, and whether or not the infrastructure is designed for its purpose. For example, many of AIMS' customers, which include large government agencies, FSI, telco and ISP players, need to understand the applications and platforms deployed on the network of the data centre they are stored at.
It might be a question of design, reliability and services offered. Companies need to look at what the data centre is meant to do and what it is actually doing. An important point to remember is the nature of the applications in use. This drives the need for effective managed services to please end-users who are faced with the issues of heavy Web-based traffic and latency-sensitive applications are pushing their communication networks to their limits.
However in the broader perspective, with caching in the picture, ISPs and other companies can resolve the issue of cost by remaining cost-effective while at the same time delivering faster, providing more reliable access to data, video, music and social and news sites links to their subscribers.
Based on the market development, caching benefits are clear. Even if organisations that deploy caching services do not immediately lower their bandwidth costs today, it is very likely they will have a higher quality of experience in surfing the Internet where they will experience quicker download and lesser buffering from content sites.
As people find it easier to publish content for sharing on the Internet, it would be wise to invest in caching technology so that your business can cash in on it in soon.
Henry Chuah (pictured above) is vice president, New Business of AIMS Group of Companies (AIMS). AIMS is a carrier-neutral data centre operator and managed services provider in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. It was recently awarded the 'Best Data Centre Engagement of The Year' by Outsourcing Malaysia. a chapter of the National ICT Association of Malaysia (PIKOM).
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